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Frustrated with uncooperative witnesses, GRPD uses 'one man grand jury' tactic

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Grand Rapids Police say that the city experienced a “higher than average” number of gun related violent crimes in the summer of 2019, while detectives became increasingly frustrated with a number of witnesses that were uncooperative with police. Authorities say it's due to three factors: the lack of trust in the police department by some members in the community, a fear of retribution, and a code that street gangs live by, that “snitches get stiches.”

“I really believe a big part of it is, the culture that exists in not talking to law enforcement,” Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne said. “We have to take these steps, to compel that information, to solve this cases.” 

Those steps meant working with Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, and deploying a rarely used tactic called a “one-person grand jury.” Meaning, that witnesses to gun violence were called in before a judge and told, “either you tell the truth under oath, and tell us what you know,” or face a perjury charge.”

Prosecutor Becker said, the results speak for themselves.

"13 individual indictments,(and) around 36 separate felony charges out of this,” Becker said. “They range from assault with intent to murder, perjury, gang violence…much has been done, but much more needs to be done, this is just a sampling.”

The one-man grand jury technique was last used in 2004 when the city faced a similar uptick in gun related crimes. Chief Payne reiterated a number of times Tuesday that the GRPD is committed to ensuring that "all people feel safe and are safe at all times throughout the community.”